FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — He has yet to step onto the field at 1 Jets Drive this offseason, but Ryan Fitzpatrick remains the center of attention.
Even the whereabouts of Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker and Nick Mangold — three key offensive pieces who were absent during the first two days organized team activities — became entangled in the Fitzpatrick fodder.
On Wednesday, coach Todd Bowles was asked if all three veterans had skipped OTAs in a sign of solidarity for Fitzpatrick, who currently is in a stalemate with the organization over a new contract.
“I don’t think so, but you’d probably have to ask them that,” Bowles said, adding that all three veterans have shown up at the facility.
Mangold later acknowledged on Twitter that his wife had a baby this week. A source said Marshall’s absence was also unrelated to the Fitzpatrick situation.
But according to the New York Post, Decker skipped OTA’s this week because “he is upset” the Jets have yet to sign Fitzpatrick.
Bowles said he knew all three players wouldn’t be here and didn’t seem particularly bothered by their absence. “It’s voluntary. When they finish doing what they have to do, they’ll be here,” he said.
But talk of Fitzpatrick continues even though he hasn’t been a Jet in months. The journeyman quarterback had the best season of his career playing in Chan Gailey’s offense last year, throwing a franchise-record 31 touchdowns and 3,905 yards — both career highs — and helping the Jets finish 10-6, one win shy of making the playoffs. Earlier this week, he said that he intends to play in 2016 and reiterated his desire to rejoin the Jets.
“I would like to be back,” Fitzpatrick told reporters on Monday.
But his return has yet to happen. And until Fitzpatrick shows his face at the facility, Bowles refuses to assume it’s a done deal.
He’s “hopeful” the 33-year-old signal-caller will be back by training camp in late July, but “I don’t know about confident,” Bowles said. “A lot of things can happen in football. Nothing surprises you. But they’re working on it and hopefully things will work out.”
Asked if there has been any changes in their negotiations, Bowles replied: “Is he here?”
Though the Jets are the only team in the league that has yet to sign its intended Week 1 starter, the coach said they’re in the same position they were in last year: Fitzpatrick was still rehabbing a broken leg when he arrived following his trade from Houston in March 2015 and, at the time, Geno Smith was their No. 1 quarterback. But after Smith’s jaw was broken in a locker room altercation with then-teammate Ikemefuna Enemkpali on Aug. 11, Fitzpatrick took the reins of the offense and never let go.
In the meantime, the coaching staff is focused on the quarterbacks who are here, including backups Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg.
Offensive coordinator Chan Gailey said, as of now, Smith will work with the first-team offense. “Everyone else is competing. We’re not putting numbers on everybody else,” he said.
Fitzpatrick’s absence means more reps for the rest of the quarterbacks. But the organization’s hope is that he’ll be back.
Asked how often he asks general manager Mike Maccagnan for updates, Bowles smiled.
“Not often. Just tell me when it’s done,” he said.
Should Fitzpatrick re-sign, Bowles said the plan is to carry four quarterbacks to start the season. “Right now, yes. We’ll see how it plays out,” he said.
But with no other market for his services, it appears Fitzpatrick’s likely landing spot will be Florham Park. But Bowles refuses to get ahead of himself.
“When he walks in the locker room, and I see him,” he said, smiling, “I’ll know he’s back.”